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Homilies | Saturday, February 03, 2024

Called to reflect the light of Christ to all peoples

Archbishop Wenski's homily on World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily during the annual Mass marking the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life and honoring men and women religious marking anniversaries of their profession of vows. The Mass was celebrated Feb. 3, 2024, in St. Mary Cathedral.

In 1997, Saint John Paul II instituted a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. This celebration is attached to the February 2nd feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas Day; the day on which candles are blessed symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world. So too, those in consecrated life are called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to all peoples. 

Vatican II rightly emphasized that the entire community of the baptized is called to holiness. 

All are equally called to follow Christ, to discover in him the ultimate meaning of our existence.

However, those whose baptismal consecration has developed into a radical response to the following of Christ, expressed in vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, have a “special experience of the light that shines forth from the Incarnate Word.” And so, as archbishop of this local Church, in the name of God’s people, I thank you, religious men and women, for the gift you are for all of us.

Your consecrated life is a gift to the Church that makes manifest the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse, Jesus Christ. Your existence — in the world but not of the world — points to the possibility of a different way of fulfilling one’s life. The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in its 2008 Instruction, Faciem tuam, Domine, requiram, describes it as “a way where God is the goal, his Word the light, and his will the guide, where consecrated persons move along peacefully in the certainty of being sustained by the hands of a Father who welcomes and provides, where they are accompanied by brothers and sisters, moved by the same Spirit, who wants to and knows how to satisfy the desires and longings sown by the Father in the heart of each one.”

Today, of course, we also honor those celebrating jubilees of religious life. The dedication, commitment and achievements of all men and women religious are well represented by these jubilarians.

There is a Chinese wish —although some have called it the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” The times in which our jubilarians have lived their religious commitment, in this post-conciliar era, have certainly been interesting times —and they have also been challenging times. In 2022, a survey found that in the U.S. less than 1% of religious sisters were under 49 years of age. Of course, as we look around the cathedral this evening, that is not necessarily true here in the Archdiocese. Thank God for that —without these younger sisters, the national curve would have been even more dire.

And you jubilarians certainly did not live in a bubble that protected you from those many challenges. Yet, you are here today —thank you for your perseverance, and your commitment and fidelity to the charisms of your communities.

While the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life is observed on yesterday’s feast of the Presentation, our Scripture Readings today are taken from the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time; but these readings with their themes of healing, restoration and evangelization also describe the vocation to service and to prayer that characterize consecrated life.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus raises Peter’s mother-in-law from her sick bed. And she immediately got up to serve them. The graces that Jesus gives us — whether it is healing or some other grace — are given not for our personal advantage, or personal self-fulfillment but to equip us to serve. Your religious consecration is not just about you — it is ultimately for the building up of the Body of Christ, the Church. Whether the particular charism of your religious family involves ministries of healing, teaching, evangelization or administration, your vocations are always ecclesial vocations — given in and for the Church of Jesus Christ. Your vocation is a vocation of kenosis, the emptying of self, in imitation of Christ.

Through you and your witness, the evangelical counsels —“characteristic features of Jesus, the chaste, poor, obedient one” —are made constantly visible in the midst of the world. You are vowed to live the evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity, and obedience which the world —and too often the faithful —see as simply renunciations. However, they are more than that —for each counsel in its own unique way is a specific acceptance of the Mystery of Christ lived within the Church.

St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians in today’s second reading inspire humility in all of us who have responded to a vocation of service in the Church, not a false humility that would have us think less of ourselves, but a true humility that has us thinking of ourselves less.

As the first reading from the Book of Job makes clear, human life is a struggle. But Christ took away our infirmities and bore our diseases. Jesus has touched us — as he touched Peter’s mother-in-law, as he touched the crowds of the sick, the infirmed, the possessed that sought him out.

Through your perseverance in your commitment to the Lord and your service with open hearts and willing spirits, you have allowed the Lord to touch countless souls.

May the Blessed Virgen Mary, her prayers and her example, continue to encourage you. May you always echo her words in your lives: Before God, may you say with her, "Be it done unto me according to your word"; before men, may you instruct them as she instructed the servants at Cana: "Do whatever he tells you."

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